The old software nerd has been asked by his adoring public to weigh in on the Apple vs. FBI fracas.
I am not going to get into the evils of terrorism, the evils of the government, or the evils of big business. I am limiting myself to technically addressable matters. I.E. if this were a matter of cannibalism, I would be discussing the non-stick properties of the cauldron… First, lets look at the request. The FBI is asking Apple for a software process or product that will over-ride several aspects of the Apple iOS 8 operating system on an existing iPhone. They are not asking for software to run anywhere else on anyone’s hardware. The ‘good’ side of this is that this somewhat limits the possibility of spreading this around, the ‘bad’ side of this is that they have exactly one chance of making this work without destroying the very information they are looking for. Even if Apple succeeds in loading something of some type on the phone, all they have done, per the FBI request is prevent the phone from self destructing after a certain number of access attempts. At this point no one knows if they have damaged something else in the attempt.
Once Apple has accomplished this goal and turned the phone over to the FBI, the FBI has to use a brute force attack (that is try every possible password) to get into the phone. Lets assume that the FBI has access to a massively parallel computer array capable of one hundred trillion (yes trillion boys and girls) tests a second. Lets also assume that the original owners of the phone (since deceased) were, as is indicated by their other actions, reasonably computer savvy. Lets postulate that they used a ten character password with all the proper safeguards, upper case, lower case, numbers, and symbols. Using the FBI’s huge computer (yeah they borrow from the NSA, but whatever), they could try every ten character password in a week!. Not bad. BUT the data and the passwords are running on an Apple iPhone , a device much dumber that the average laptop computer. All their great computer hardware is useless. If we assume that by amping up the smartphone, possibly connecting it directly to the power grid a a million volts, they can get the phone to test ten billion pass-codes a second, the time to cover the whole range of ten digit pass-codes is….. wait for it… TWO HUNDRED YEARS…. This is to be done to recover data they don’t even know is present.
This is not an intellectually honest request. This is a way to set a precedent, that if the government asks for something they have an unquestioned right to get it. This shouldn’t happen. When the government starts covering their tracks with, it’s — to fight terrorism— —to protect the children— —to preserve our freedoms—, without specific measurable goals, we should be very cautious. I am not forgetting about the financial and time commitment being asked of Apple, or the possibility that Apple engineers may just refuse to do it. I am not forgetting about the overall threat to everyone’s privacy and security if this is shown to be possible. I am not forgetting about the horrible results of terrorism and crime. I am saying that giving in to a government edit, the results of which are meaningless since the goal is not achievable, just because they want it, is a small step on the the path to dictatorship